“Lies and secrets, Tessa, they are like a cancer in the soul. They eat away what is good and leave only destruction behind.” ― Cassandra Clare, “Clockwork Prince”
From museums to television shows and from boardrooms to bedrooms, secrets are controlling the actions of people every day.
Many things in life might be out of our control, but living a secret is one thing to which people choose to relinquish control.
For a magician, keeping the secrets of his tricks is how he makes his living. For an employee who has taken a bribe, the secret is the key to his livelihood, and it is like a cancer, eating away at his very soul. Secrets are what we tell our best friend when we have a crush on that cute boy in the third row, and secrets are what we pray will not be discovered when we have lived so long as someone we are not. Secrets eat away what is good and leave destruction behind.
While I rarely watch the news, loaded with talk of violent crimes and lurid affairs, my attention has been grabbed many times lately by news of individuals who have claimed to have done things they never did and not to have acted in ways they clearly did. The blatant lies that portray a person as one thing often give way to the truth of a different face.
People lie on job applications, in marriages, in the locker room and apparently on national television. If a person lies in a courtroom, it is a felony offense called perjury and can land them in jail for a year or more. Sometimes, lies are considered acceptable because they save another person from embarrassment or harm. Once you tell a lie, though, you have a secret, and that is a heavy weight to bear.
If someone asks me to keep something to myself, I will do that. There are times when we don’t want the whole world to know something personal, but we just need to tell someone. That is what I consider to be a confidence. There are other times when we have done something that we aren’t proud of, and we want no one to know.
That little piece of juiciness is what we call a “secret,” and it is what Aunt Harriet was talking about when she told Tessa that secrets are like a cancer in the soul. In the quoted scene, we learn that Harriet had never told her son that she was his mother. The entire story is about secrets, and it is secrets that seem to be destroying people, sometimes leading them to self-destruction. Secrets are for books and gardens, not for a life of freedom.
Freedom moves out of reach when we begin to lie. You ask, “Did you get my note?” I can answer truthfully that I received it and have just not made replying a priority, or I can attempt to make myself not look so thoughtless and claim I have not received it.
Robert Feldman, Ph.D., studied deception for more than 25 years and concluded, “We find that as soon as people feel that their self-esteem is threatened, they immediately begin to lie at higher levels.” It’s not just everyday people who lie, though. Important, well-paid people lie and often get away with it.
Tom Brady might have come under fire for questions of honesty about a deflated football, but he recently took some air out of the food industry, saying, “I think we’ve been lied to by a lot of food companies over the years, by a lot of beverage companies over the years. But we still [believe] it …”
We condemn individuals who lie and cheat, but we accept and embrace the lies companies and government officials tell us when it’s what we want to hear. And that leads us to the obvious question of, “Why do people believe lies?”
Research shows that people believe what they want to believe. If you love Oreo cookies, no amount of scientific evidence or pounds on the scale will convince you that the white creamy stuff isn’t as bad as people might be saying it is.
If drinking bottled water is your answer to not drinking soda, you don’t want to hear that the plastic is leeching chemicals when it’s been sitting in the heat in front of a store or in your car. If a favored politician, preacher, spouse, child, teacher or doctor is called out for not speaking the truth, it is easier for most people to blame someone else for lying than to believe the worst of someone they have trusted.
We should be able to trust that in matters that matter, people will tell the truth, but just like Aunt Harriet’s keeping the truth to herself, we keep truths to ourselves every day. Not telling the truth is as dangerous as telling a lie.
While I really don’t want you to tell me I look bad, I really do want you to tell me if what I’m wearing isn’t very flattering — if I ask you. Those little white lies of flattery are sometimes kinder than blurting out our true opinion, but they are still untruths and leave us bound in our deception.
Listen to your conversations today. If you are the one asking the question that could be answered with a lie, ask carefully. Just as a child will lie more often than not when they are put on the spot by an accusing parent or teacher, so it goes for the rest of us. If you are the one answering, pause before you speak and remember the words of Don Miguel Ruiz in the first of his Four Agreements, “Be impeccable with your word.” Let’s expect it of others and demand it of ourselves.